A sitemap is a vital part of your underlying website structure. It allows search engines to find the pages on your site and rank them individually rather than simply ranking your site as a whole. For example, you might have older pages that aren’t as high value as newer pages. A sitemap accounts for that and allows you to point Google to your most valuable content.
Some experts argue that a sitemap is a must for every site. While others state that it is especially important for larger sites. Since Google uses the sitemap to find pages you might not have linked elsewhere on your pages (internal links), adding a sitemap allows Google to crawl those pages and return them in search results.
How To Create a Better Sitemap?
1. XML Vs. HTML
Sitemaps typically are in XML, which is a language that search engines easily understand. XML allows Google, for example, to grab information on all the pages on your site and when each was last updated. When a consumer plugs in a search term, Google has all this information on hand and can show how pertinent pages on your site are to the search and a date to show whether this is current information or a bit older, more established information. Matt Cutts of Google suggests using both HTML and XML sitemaps. This allows your visitors to easily search your sitemap and also speaks to the search engines.
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Take a look at the organized layout of Teleflora’s sitemap. This is quite easy for site visitors to decipher. The map is organized in columns of categories, such as “Bouquets by Occasions” and then sub categories are under that listing. This type of layout works particularly well for a site that sells products, because the search engines and the consumer can easily find the exact category they want.
2. Create a Sitemap Easily
Creating a sitemap is fairly simple. If your website runs on a WordPress platform, you can either utilize a plugin such as Yoast SEO or Google Sitemap to create an XML sitemap for the search engine. You can also use free tools such as php Sitemap NG to create sitemaps in XML, HTML or RSS. Once you understand the basic hierarchy of your site, it is much easier to figure out how you’d like to structure your sitemap. Taking the time to create a sitemap also allows you to think through strategies for organization as your site grows and changes.
3. Consider Navigation as a Whole
When choosing how to build your sitemap, you have to look at your navigation as a whole, including your sitemap and the navigation that site visitors see. Some categories may not be as pertinent as others when someone lands on your page, but you still gain traffic or interest to those pages and categories, so you’ll want to keep them on your website. Take a step back after creating your sitemap and figure out which areas your visitors head to most often. Heat maps help you see which categories most visitors are interested in. You can then utilize these categories in your navigation, but still include the other categories in your sitemap.
Reynolds does a couple of things really well with their sitemap. First, the overall layout is very skimmable and easy to read. However, they also utilize a sticky sidebar that gives visitors more options than just looking at the pages on the sitemap. For example, if the person still doesn’t see what they’re looking for, then they can utilize the search feature. The sidebar also links to projects and related pages.
4. Submit Your Map to Google
In order for your map to be of use, it needs to be submitted to Google, so that Google can include it in their index of website pages. Submitting the sitemap to Google is as simple as uploading the map to your site and then heading over to your Google Search Console. You’ll then want to head over to Bing Webmaster Tools and submit your sitemap there. Take the time to study your site analytics and figure out where your traffic comes from. If 90 percent of your traffic is from Google and 10 percent from Facebook, you may not need to worry about submitting to smaller search engines. On the other hand, if you get 25 percent of your traffic from Bing, you’ll want to be certain to submit you sitemap over there.
5. Keep Things Simple
It is tempting to keep adding subcategories as your site grows, but it is actually much more effective to limit the number of categories. Site visitors tend to not like drop downs and not tolerate too many subcategories on a website. One or two levels of drop downs should be more than enough even for the largest of sites.
Forbes is an enormous site with business articles on a wide variety of topics. Yet, they keep things fairly simply to two basic levels. Note how they have just a handful of main categories, such as Business and Investing. Under the main categories, they have subcategories. They do not list sub-subcategories. Two levels keeps things simple, even on this mega site.
6. Highlight Main Pages
As your site grows, you may wind up with some content that is duplicated, such as a video on the topic as well as an older article. You can utilize your sitemap and the “link rel=canonical” tag to inform Google of which page is the main content and where they should direct visitors looking for that topic.
Create a Better Sitemap
A sitemap is limited to 50,000 URLs. If you have more than 50,000 indexable pages, you may need to create multiple sitemaps. This is sometimes an issue for eCommerce sites, for example.
A sitemap also reminds you what topics you’ve already covered and allows you to prevent too much duplicate content on your site. There are many reasons to add a sitemap, but understanding how they work and best practices is a good step toward search engine and site navigation success.